Do you want to ex­plore the ca­reer of a sol­dier from the past? Phil To­maselli sur­veys the va­ri­ety of records – com­piled over hun­dreds of years – on Bri­tain’s dif­fer­ent fight­ing units

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

There have been sol­diers in Bri­tain of one kind or an­other for hun­dreds of years. Of­ten these were men who had re­ceived train­ing and re­mained civil­ians, ready to be called upon, but from 1660 on­wards these were be­ing steadily re­placed by full time pro­fes­sion­als.

Early records are patchy and only oc­ca­sion­ally pro­vide in­for­ma­tion di­rectly use­ful to the genealogist but as time went on more and more records have sur­vived and are avail­able for the care­ful re­searcher to in­ves­ti­gate and, hope­fully, find out about their an­ces­tors who served. One thing it’s im­por­tant to point out – these records were not cre­ated with the genealogist in mind. Most were cre­ated so that the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties, which doled out the some­times piti­ful amounts spent on de­fence, could en­sure the money was be­ing spent prop­erly. If a sol­dier died or de­serted with­out get­ting a pen­sion their per­sonal records weren’t kept.

Un­til the lat­ter half of the 19th cen­tury, re­spon­si­bil­ity for wives and chil­dren lay with the reg­i­ments and their records, if they still ex­ist, re­main with them. From the 1860s cen­tral gov­ern­ment be­gan to keep records of wives and fam­i­lies, but it was only around the First World War that this be­came sys­tem­atic, as wid­ows be­came due to re­ceive pen­sions.

For all these warn­ings there are scores of types of records that can be searched, many on­line, and the dili­gent re­searcher should be able to find in­for­ma­tion on the sol­dier him­self, where he served, what medals he might have been awarded, where he was en­listed and pos­si­bly some­thing about his fam­ily as well.

Bri­tish sol­diers wait to leave for France in the Sec­ond World War, when 3,800,000 men and women served in the army

Bri­tish army grenadiers, wear­ing their distinc­tive uni­form mitre caps, c1750

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